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Having the Toyota Kluger Grande long termer in the CarAdvice garage during the New Year break gave us a unique opportunity to undertake some period relevant organic payload behavioural analysis — or in other words, cram it full of children during the school holidays.
It’s a tricky time of year — that two-month block from December to February. Sure, the bulk concentration of public holidays and promise of fine weather should be a recipe for non-stop fun, but juggling everything life contains, particularly in households where both parents work, can be a challenge.
Pooling resources and sharing the load (read: pain) between families is a great way to manage the day and it always helps to be prepared — with a seven-seat SUV — to handle logistics.
So in this second update on Kluger ‘ownership’ we will include feedback from other parents (as both driver and passenger) and from some of the cargo, ranging in age from 4 to 13, who joined us on adventures during school holidays.
We’ll also address some of the comments and questions from readers in our first Toyota Kluger Grande report.
Now first up — and to settle this — the Kluger is called the Toyota Highlander in every world market, except for Australia and the brand’s native Japan. This is due to Hyundai trademarking the Highlander name in these countries, and, as the Highlander himself taught us; there can be only one.
So Kluger it is — and our big guy, referred to simply as the 'Klug’ — found quick favour with riders in the back seat. One of the little ones even drew the Klug — the resemblance is uncanny, isn't it?
Mimi and John, with four children and a dog, are used to a third-generation Toyota Prado. The most immediate difference when loading up the Kluger was the space. “I normally have to put my cricket gear across my lap with all of us piled into the car, but now it fits in the boot with our sports bags”, noted Master Ten.
“The ride was much smoother and didn’t bump around as much as the Prado”, said Miss Six, “and when we got where we were going, no one wanted to get out because we were watching Kung Fu Panda on the entertainment screen”.
Now while these are both obvious comments — the Kluger is bigger (140mm longer and 50mm wider) and more ‘on-road’ oriented than the older Prado — the Kluger is a likely option for those seeking to upgrade, size makes a big difference.
The interior space and flip-down entertainment screen won over the rest of the family too and a flash from a roadside camera suggests that John enjoyed the 3.5-litre 201kW and 337Nm V6 perhaps a little too much. “It is so effortless off the line and substantially quieter than the Prado. I didn’t even realize what speed I was doing — I couldn’t see a digital readout at all.”
We forgive a 5km/h-over speeding infraction, but can’t really forgive the lack of a digital speedometer in a car like this…but more on that in our third instalment where we plan on looking at the technology offering in the Grande.
John also noted that the family’s preferred configuration for touring had three children across the middle and one in the back, with the second third-row seat folded for more luggage space. Where this may be conducive to cries of ‘someone’s touching me’ and ‘are we there yet?’, the DVD player and the two included wireless headsets helped immeasurably.
Our next family was Tessa and Tristan who have two children and visiting grandparents. They are looking to upgrade from a ten-year-old Honda CR-V and want more space, but also good fuel economy.
On a run out to the Yarra Valley, Tristan notes “I love the look of the Kluger and find it a very solid and comfortable car to drive”. It’s no surprise to us that it would feel solid compared to the CR-V as the Kluger weighs about 400kg more than the older Honda.
“The multi-zone air conditioning was a huge help, particularly with kids in the third row and the flexible seating is really handy”. On the subject of moving children and adults into different spots around the car, the Kluger’s sliding middle row is very useful to add or subtract legroom as needed, although it’s not perfect…
Fitting two child seats in the middle row makes access to the back tricky — especially if you use the kerb-side spot for a capsule. A 40/20/40 split would be a far greater improvement to the interior.
Affording middle row passengers business-class legroom makes the back very cramped, even for children, so a happy medium needs to be found to suit your particular passengers. The sliding rails on the middle row make this a simple and ‘adjust on the fly’ proposition and can make the third row comfy even for smaller adults.
One of the downsides to the entertainment screen is when reaching in to adjust and fasten seatbelts. Every time you turn and reach around, you vow not to clock yourself in the head, only to do it again each time.
Our third tester was Cam with two children, who is looking for something a bit more ‘urban’ focused than his Mitsubishi Pajero.
“It is a very comfortable car”, says Cam. “The adjustment and ventilation on the front seats is excellent, although it feels like you sit quite low in relation to the window sill — which took some getting used to. I could raise the seat, but then my head would hit the roof!”
“Vision out the back is not great — the high sills look cool on the outside, but it makes the rear windows quite small. I found myself relying on the reverse camera, which is great, but it never hurts to be able to see.”
And then, the gripe we raised in our first report — that boot. It is soo slooow to raise and lower, and very difficult to force down. It may be a first world problem, but occasionally you want to shut the boot and go — not wait and wait and wait.
Also worth noting is the split tailgate glass, which I found very handy — but Mimi and Tessa, who are both much shorter than I am — couldn’t reach the floor of the boot through the glass as the opening edge was above the height of their shoulders.
My own adventures saw Miss Five and friends experiment with all the available seating positions to get the best angle on the video screen. We took in some winding B-roads and a few unsealed tracks and the Kluger took it all in its stride. In fact at 80km/h on a dirt surface, the dust plume was the only indication we had moved off the blacktop. Penguins of Madagascar may have helped drown out any noise, but the ‘Klug’ felt quite at home.
It’s worth noting that the low-down response around town doesn’t quite translate on the open road, as accelerating to overtake a car doing 90km/h saw me on the wrong side of the road for longer than I would have liked as the big Toyota doesn’t quite have the punch for that all important 80-120km/h blast.
Cruising is where the Kluger is most happy, reading an impressive 10.4L/100km on a round trip of about 300km to Romsey and Kyneton. The radar cruise control feature in the Grande isn’t as smooth as in some European models, but it works well enough and makes touring an effortless experience.
In general, the Toyota Kluger Grande is winning friends for its comfort and space. It is a big, lovable Phil Dunphy of a car that achieves its reason d’etre with a big tick.
Flexible space is what the Kluger is all about, and it’s an area that impressed across the board. There are a few niggles with the way the seats work, particularly when using capsules and booster seats, so make sure you test this with your requirements if you are looking at the car.
The DVD player was the stand out favourite amongst the children (no surprises there) and the modern safety features of blind spot detection and the reverse camera were big plus points for the parents.
To see no less than 15 different children through its seats over a six-week period, with no issues, breakages or permanent marks, is again a testament to the suitability of the Kluger as a family bus. Cleaning up stray McDonalds french fries is pretty easy too – with few black-holes that tend to swallow items to that ‘just out of reach’ position.
While everyone had his or her negative points on the car, the overwhelming concern was fuel economy. Around town the Kluger would generally see around 13L/100km, which could easily go up, particularly if you were heavy footed.
We managed to beat our previous combined cycle claim on a freeway / A-Road country tour, but are yet to see any trip dip below the magical 10L/100km mark.
For a car that is sold as a hybrid in North America (where it is built) and from a company that is known for producing strong diesel engines, why the only engine option is a petrol V6 is a mystery to us.
The ‘Klug’ as a car is doing a great job in its family hauling role. With fifteen kids through the car over the holidays, it managed to show no signs of wear, which is a pretty impressive feat. In the next report we will go through the extra features and technology fitted to the Grande to see if it, or perhaps the lower-spec’d and cheaper GXL, is the best one to look at.
Toyota Kluger Grande
Date acquired: November 2014
Odometer reading: 11,769km
Travel since previous update: 1,906km
Consumption since previous update: 12.7L/100km
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser and James Ward - as well as some one-off illustrations.